Most people experience anxiety, depression, and stress at some point. In many cases, these feelings are short-lived and do not interfere much with their quality of life. But in some other cases, these negative feelings can lead to deep despair and cause a person to question their meaning and place in life. Such cases are known as existential crises.
Searching for meaning and purpose in life is not uncommon. But despite an existential crisis, the problem lies in one’s inability to find satisfactory and convincing answers. In the case of some people, the inability to find answers to these basic questions causes internal conflicts, as well as feelings of hopelessness and loss of the sense of pleasure and satisfaction in life.
Mental health professionals believe there are healthy ways to deal with existential crises that ultimately contribute to a person’s mental health and well-being. In the following, get acquainted with the different types of existential crises, their risks, and complications, as well as some methods of overcoming them.
What is an existential crisis?
Simply put, the term “existential crisis” refers to the questioning of deep concepts related to life, death, and human purpose in life. This issue is usually associated with how a person perceives himself and his purpose in life.
Existential crises usually occur at the same time as fundamental changes in our lives and indicate a person’s difficulty in adjusting and adapting to new conditions, which is often related to the loss of a sense of peace and security. For example, someone going to college and estranged from family or an adult going through a difficult divorce may feel like the foundation of their life is crumbling, and everything is falling apart. This issue can lead to questioning their existential meaning.
A person experiencing an existential crisis is usually trying to answer some critical or complex question, such as what their purpose in life is or even the meaning of life.
Although questioning the concepts related to life and work is a natural and healthy thing, existential crises can sometimes find an unnatural and negative trend. This doesn’t always happen, but if a person can’t find answers to these challenging questions, they may end up with depression or anxiety.
Existential crises may also occur after experiencing prolonged negative emotions, feelings of isolation, or other stressors such as depression or anxiety.
Feeling sad or experiencing a period of anxiety and stress is also standard. However, when these feelings or inner conflicts increase, and the person cannot find any solution, it may cause deep despair toward his life purpose.
When a person asks himself a question in this hostile atmosphere, he only receives negative answers, which can harm a person’s mental health.
Existential crises can happen to people at any age, but many people experience an existential crisis when faced with a difficult situation, such as the struggle for success.
Existential crises refer to fundamental challenges about the meaning of life, the scope of human choices, and the limits of his freedom in life. Whether it is called existential crisis or existential anxiety, its main issues are the same: that life is inherently meaningless, and our existence and presence in this world have no meaning because everything has limits, or we all must die one day.
According to existentialists, an existential crisis is an enlightening journey, a necessary experience, and a complex phenomenon. This issue arises from your awareness of the scope of your freedoms and how your life will end one day.
Existential crises may sometimes be associated with some mental disorders. For this reason, seeing a psychiatrist or psychotherapist is better if the existential crisis leads to despair or suicidal thoughts in you.
The origin of the term “existential crisis.”
The term “existential crisis” is rooted in existentialism, which is a philosophical school. Existentialism is intensely focused on the meaning and purpose of existence, both from a general and an individual point of view.
The main idea of existentialism is that the world is inherently meaningless, and it is up to the individual to create a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche have published works that, according to researchers, are considered part of the school of existentialism. But in fact, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre finally popularized the term “existentialism” in the 1940s. Years later, psychologists defined a scenario based on the views of this school under the title “existential crisis.”
Types of existential crisis
In simple words, existential crisis means facing turbulence and existential changes in a person. However, the meaning of this term is very broad. Different questions may cause an existential crisis, and a person may face one of the various issues with each.
The following sections examine the types of existential crises that a person can experience.
The central question surrounding an existential crisis is whether or not a person’s life or life itself has any definite meaning. A meaningless life is not attractive to many people, so humans tend to create meaning if they cannot find meaning.
From a historical point of view, the meaning of life came from religion, but now it comes from various things such as family, work, marriage, and recreation or travel. The main idea is that one must find meaning in life because there is no inherent meaning.
However, people who cannot find meaning through these personal questions may experience deep existential anxiety.
Emotions and being.
Some people may try to ignore or avoid the emotions they struggle with, such as pain or anger, because they think doing so will only bring out the emotions they like, such as happiness or peace. they experience
This issue may lead to some people not paying attention and taking care of all their feelings, which may lead to false happiness. This issue can cause a person to lose his feelings over time, and if this state of a person gets confused and faces a crisis, it may lead to the start of a fundamental question-and-answer process in his mind, which can cause an existential crisis.
Some people may feel inauthentic, which can lead to an existential crisis.
For example, a person may feel that they are not being true to themselves or that they are not being true to their true self. They may think that they have not been their true selves in various situations and that their behavior has not been authentic enough.
Questioning the issue of authenticity can lead to the distortion of various definitions that a person has presented about himself, and this issue ultimately causes severe anxiety, identity crisis, and, finally, existential crisis.
Death and its limitations
Anyone can experience an existential crisis. However, some mental questions and concerns may occur at the same time as some life events. For example, as a person ages, they may think more about their death and try to cope with it.
Finding the first gray hairs or seeing age lines and wrinkles in the mirror can make one aware of the aging process and that one day one’s life will end.
Existential crises based on mortality are common in people diagnosed with a terminal illnesses. They may ask themselves if they have achieved anything in their lives. They may also be genuinely shocked by death and the anxiety of facing the end of their life.
The unknown aspects of death, such as the mystery of what awaits a person after death, can also cause deep anxiety and fear in some people. This can also lead to an existential crisis.
Communication and isolation
Connections and isolation are two opposite concepts, but they are more on a spectrum scale. Humans are social creatures by nature and need to communicate with others to fulfill some of their essential needs.
However, humans sometimes need solitude and isolation to think, know themselves, and shape their ideals.
Experiencing isolation or over-communication may lead to a crisis. For example, without isolation, one may lose aspects of one’s existence in society.
On the other hand, disconnection from society for various reasons, including losing a loved one, divorce, or even feeling disconnected from a group, may also cause a person to question his connections and existential dimensions.
Freedom is a common aspect of existential crises. Being human means having the freedom to make your own choices. However, it is essential to note that this also means accepting responsibility for the results of these choices.
This can lead to uncertainty about taking any action, fearing that it will be wrong or have undesirable consequences.
This type of crisis can create anxiety about choices and how to shape life and existence.
Dangers and complications of existential crisis.
According to research, existential crises are commonly seen in people facing advanced or progressive diseases.
In addition, existential crises may be related to other life events, such as:
- Entering a culturally significant age, such as 40 or 50
- Losing a loved one
- Sad or traumatic experiences
- Experiencing a change in relationship status, such as marriage or divorce
There may also be a link between existential crisis and specific mental health problems, including:
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
However, this does not necessarily mean one of these factors causes the other.
Going through an existential crisis
Experiencing an existential crisis does not necessarily mean a person has a mental health problem. This can be very positive. Questioning the meaning and purpose of life is healthy behavior and can help to find personal ideals and goals and lead to the realization of a better tomorrow for the person.
Here are some simple tips to help a person overcome an existential crisis.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Instead of having one big and meaningful experience that gives meaning and purpose to their lives, most people have a collection of small but meaningful experiences that shape their lives. Keeping a gratitude journal can be a great way to recognize these significant moments.
A person can add these small and meaningful events to his notebook when they happen. Later, by looking at this notebook, he can remember the things he enjoys in life and the positive experiences and interactions that give meaning to his life as a whole, and he no longer loses the meaning of life.
Do not give in to pessimism.
When a person finds himself in existential chaos, he can easily allow negative thoughts to take over him, and it should be remembered that this can make negative feelings even more profound and intense.
One should try first to acknowledge any pessimistic ideas that come to mind but then replace them with one’s optimistic thoughts. This issue can help control a person’s internal conversation or at least cause neutrality in the conversation with oneself.
Look for shorter answers.
Part of the weight of the existential crisis is trying to find a single, all-encompassing answer to a question that may be too big or complex to answer.
Trying to find big, complete answers to such profound questions can create more anxiety and lead to deeper feelings of worry and despair.
Instead, it will be much easier to break these huge questions into smaller chunks. Then, it proceeds to find the answers to these more minor questions.
For example, instead of asking whether or not a person has accomplished something in their entire life, they should ask themselves how they affected the world around them in the past month.
This can highlight small but positive actions that a person has done, such as a thank-you call from a friend or loved one. Otherwise, these positive but small points may not be considered when considering life’s big questions.
Talk about an existential crisis.
Talking to the person is helpful but may lead to the same conclusion each time.
Talking to a person or group, such as a friend or loved one, can help one see the crisis differently. This solution can provide a person with more options and possibilities to explore.
In the research, the importance of discussion groups for people with cancer who are facing existential problems has been mentioned a lot.
Talking with peers about these issues can help such people face challenges and learn, maybe even find answers together.
When should we see a doctor?
Although questioning existential issues and the meaning of life is normal and healthy, there are times when it is better to see a doctor or a mental health professional.
Some people can get through an existential crisis on their own. Still, anyone whose existential crisis seems to be driving them toward depression and anxiety should see a mental health professional.
If an existential crisis leads to suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately.
Anyone can experience an existential crisis. It’s natural and healthy to ask yourself big questions about the meaning of life.
However, these big questions usually won’t have simple answers and will vary significantly from person to person. Because of this, there is generally no easy way to resolve existential crises, only to move through them and leave them behind.
There are cases when a person gets through an existential crisis without help; in general, an existential crisis does not require medical intervention.
However, suppose the existential crisis leads to more serious concerns about the person’s mental health, such as depression or anxiety. In that case, the person should see a psychotherapist or a psychiatric specialist for counseling and treatment.
What is an existential crisis?
An existential crisis refers to the questioning of deep concepts related to life, death, and human purpose. It is associated with how a person perceives themselves and their purpose in life. It often arises during significant changes in one’s life and indicates difficulty in adjusting to new conditions.
What triggers an existential crisis?
Existential crises can be triggered by fundamental changes in our lives, such as going to college, estrangement from family, going through a difficult divorce, or facing prolonged negative emotions like isolation, depression, or anxiety.
How is existentialism related to existential crises?
The term “existential crisis” is rooted in existentialism, a philosophical school focused on the meaning and purpose of existence. The main idea of existentialism is that the world is inherently meaningless, and individuals must create their own sense of meaning and purpose.
What are the types of existential crises?
The types include questioning the meaning of life, dealing with emotions and being, grappling with authenticity, confronting death and its limitations, managing communication and isolation, and handling the concept of freedom.
How can one overcome an existential crisis?
Some methods include keeping a gratitude journal, avoiding pessimism, seeking shorter answers to big questions, discussing the crisis with others, and breaking down larger questions into smaller, more manageable ones.
When should one seek professional help for an existential crisis?
While questioning existential issues is normal, if the crisis leads to depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to seek help from a mental health professional.
Can an existential crisis be positive?
Yes, questioning the meaning and purpose of life is healthy behavior. It can help individuals find personal ideals and goals, leading to a better future.
How is the existential crisis linked to mental health disorders?
Existential crises may sometimes be associated with mental disorders like anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What is the origin of the term “existential crisis”?
The term is rooted in existentialism, a philosophical school. Philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche have contributed to this school of thought, but the term “existentialism” was popularized by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1940s.
How do life events relate to existential crises?
Events such as entering a significant age, losing a loved one, experiencing trauma, or changes in relationship status can trigger existential crises.
What is the main idea of existentialism?
The primary concept of existentialism is that the world is inherently meaningless, and it’s up to individuals to create a sense of meaning and purpose in life.